The consequences of the war of bombings and sanctions waged against the people of Iraq over the last 10 years

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“Just a decade ago, Iraq boasted one of the most modern infrastructures and highest standards of living in the Middle East. The world’s second largest oil producer, it had in recent decades used oil revenues for ambitious projects and development programers, as well as to build one of the most powerful armed forces in the Arab world. It had established a modern, complex health care system, with giant hospitals built on Western models and using the latest equipment. It had constructed sophisticated water-treatment and pumping facilities. It had an extensive school and university system.”i


  • The effect of the embargo against Iraq cannot be appreciated without taking into account the prior destruction of the civilian and economic infrastructures of the country during the “Gulf War” in 1991.
  • Indeed, violating all international conventions, the bombing campaign against Iraq in January and February 1991 has systematically targeted bridges, roads, food warehouses, irrigation systems, water treatment plants, the electric production and distribution system, refineries, pipelines, etc.
  • “The human toll of the Persian Gulf war –as many as 100 000 death, five million displaced persons, and over $ 200 billion in property damage– ranks this conflict as the single most devastating event in the Middle East since World War I”.ii
  • The sanctions regime imposed against Iraq since August 6, 1990, is the most severe in the history of the United Nations. It has systematically prevented the country from rebuilding its destroyed infrastructures and repairing damages caused by gradual wearing out, resulting in a catastrophic humanitarian situation which still does not improve.


  • ECONOMY. The Iraqi economy has collapsed. The middle class has literally vanished. “The country has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty”. Whereas annual per capita income was around $3 500 US in 1988, it had fallen to $1 500 in 1991, and then at $1 036 in 1998.iii The Iraqi dinar is only worth 1/6000 of its value ten years ago.iv Skyrocketing inflation and epidemic unemployment have caused a tragic increase of begging, prostitution and violent crimes.
  • OIL. Before the embargo, oil accounted for 61% of the GNP and for 95% of foreign exchange entries. In their March 2000 report, international oil experts concluded: “The oil industry is degrading, safety is below conventionally accepted standards, the environment is endangered, and the ultimate recovery potential of oil and gas in the fields is jeopardized. The current situation, if left unchanged, will lead inexorably to the demise of the oil industry”.v
  • AGRICULTURE. At the time when sanctions were imposed, Iraq was depending on imports for 70% of its food. In the past, this country had been the #1 exporting country for dates; today, half of its 30 million date trees are dead. In 1998-1999, an epidemic of Hoof and mouth disease caused the infection of one million animals (sheep and cattle). The only laboratory which produced the vaccine against this disease had been destroyed in 1993, because the USA insisted that it could be used to produce chemical and biological weapons… Finally, we note that a very important drop in rainfall since the Winter of 1998-1999 has caused the most severe drought in decades.
  • DRINKABLE WATER. In 1991, before the war, 90% of the population in urban areas and 75% of the population in rural areas had access to potable water. In 1999, these proportions had fallen to 61% and 41% respectively.vi
  • ELECTRICITY. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that it would cost $ 7 billion US only to restore the electric production sector to its 1990 capacity.vii
  • DEVELOPMENT. In general terms, Iraq has once again become a poorly developed country. In 1990, it ranked 55th on the scale of the Human Development Index (HDI) established by the UNDP; in 1995, it had fallen to the 106th rank, and in 2000 to the 126th rank.


  • MALNUTRITION. According to UNICEF, cases of acute malnutrition among children under 5 years of age have more than tripled between 1990 and 1999.viii
  • MORTALITY OF CHILDREN. Because of problems related to contaminated water, malnutrition and the shortage of medication, the number of children who die uselessly in Iraq is appalling: according to a rigorous survey conducted by UNICEF, 500,000 children under five years of age have died because of the war and sanctions between 1991 and 1998. And they continue to die at the steady rate of 150 to 200 every day…ix
  • WOMEN'S HEALTH. 70% of Iraqi women suffer from anemia.x In addition, as a result of a serious problem of malnutrition of mothers, 20.4% of children weigh less than 2.5kg at birth (4% before sanctions).xi Maternal mortality has become the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.xii
  • EDUCATION. In 1991, 3,000 schools were damaged by the bombardments. Presently, 55% of schools are unfit for teaching or learning. The average salary of a teacher is $3 to $5 US. In 1998, over one million children were no longer attending school for economic reasons related to the embargo.xiii
  • DEPLETED URANIUM. According to various estimates, between 300 and 800 tons of depleted uranium (a waste product resulting from the process of uranium enrichment for bombs and nuclear reactors) were used in 1991 in shells and ammunitions. Upon impact, up to 70 % of this substance becomes a fine aerosol of dust particles which can be inhaled or ingested, causing damages both chemically and by radioactivity.xiv Depleted uranium could be the reason behind the 4 to 10-fold increase in spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, leukemia's, lymphomas and other forms of cancer.xv
  • REBELLION AT THE UN. Over the last two years, three United Nations high ranking officials stationed in Iraq have loudly resigned.xvi In this manner, they wanted to protest against this policy of sanctions and the demonstrated incapacity of the “Oil for Food” programed to stop the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Last year, Mr. Denis Halliday went as far as declaring: “I had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults”.xvii

i Iraq, A Decade of Sanctions, Special Report, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

ii Middle East Report (formerly known as the MERIP Report), no 171, July/August 1991. N.B.: Other sources have provided higher estimates for the number of Iraqi deaths during this bombing campaign.

iii Report of the second panel established pursuant to the note by the president of the Security Council of 30 January 1999 (S/1999/100) concerning the current humanitarian situation in Iraq, March 1999.

iv Iraq, Sanctions That Kill, Report by the Observer Mission to Iraq organised by Objection de conscience/Voices of Conscience, from 4 to 15 January 2000, p. 13.

v Report of the group of United Nations experts established pursuant to paragraph 30 of the Security Council resolution 1284, 2000.

vi Information sheet distributed by the United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (UNOHCI).

vii Report of the second panel established pursuant…, op. cit., March 1999.

viii Briefing Notes on Health, Nutrition, Water and Sanitation, Education, and Child Protection, January 2000.

ix Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999, Preliminary Report, UNICEF and Ministry of Health of Iraq, August 1999.

x Report of the second panel established pursuant…, op. cit., March 1999.

xi Briefing Notes on Health, Nutrition, Water and Sanitation, Education, and Child Protection, UNICEF, January 2000.

xii Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999, Preliminary Report, UNICEF and Ministry of Health of Iraq, August 1999.

xiii Briefing Notes on Health, Nutrition, Water and Sanitation, Education, and Child Protection, UNICEF, January 2000.

xiv Depleted Uranium: A Post-War Disaster for Environment and Health, Laka Foundation, May 1999.

xv Arbuthnot, F., Poisoned Legacy, The New Internationalist (316); 12-14.

xvi Mr. Denis Halliday and Mr. Hans von Sponeck, both United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Baghdad, as well as Ms Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Program in Baghdad. See "A new Iraqi policy" by Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck.

xvii Quoted in an article by John Pilger, Guardian, 4 March 2000.